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A former IBM employee sacked for visiting an internet chat room "for a sexual experience during work" has sued the company for $5m, AP reports.

James Pacenza, 58, of Montgomery, New York, worked as a chip machine operator at IBM's East Fishkill plant. On 28 May 2003, he used a 10 minute period of "downtime" - while the machine measured the chip wafer's thickness - to "log onto a chat room from a computer at his work station".

He didn't log out, and a fellow worker subsequently "saw some chat entries, including a vulgar reference to a sexual act". He reported Pacenza, who was sacked the next day.

Pacenza's lawsuit claims he visits chat rooms "to treat traumatic stress incurred in 1969 when he saw his best friend killed during an Army patrol in Vietnam". He says the stress turned him into a "a sex addict, and with the development of the internet, an internet addict". Accordingly, he is citing protection under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Pacenza's lawyer, Michael Diederich, said his client "had returned that day from visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and logged onto a site called ChatAvenue and then to an adult chat room". Pacenza says he was encouraged by IBM to use the internet at work as "a form of self-medication" for post-traumatic stress disorder. Regarding the day in question, he explained: "I felt I needed the interactive engagement of chat talk to divert my attention from my thoughts of Vietnam and death."

The court papers, filed in White Plains, New York, add: "I was tempting myself to perhaps become involved in some titillating conversation."

Diederich said Pacenza "never visited pornographic sites at work, violated no written IBM rule, and did not surf the internet any more or any differently than other employees". He suggested age discrimination contributed to IBM's actions, since Pacenza had been 55 at the time of his sacking, and "could have retired in a year".

He continued: "IBM workers who have drug or alcohol problems are placed in programs to help them, and Pacenza should have been offered the same". Pacenza, however, was told there were "no programs for sex addiction or other psychological illnesses". The court papers explain: "In IBM management's eyes, plaintiff has an undesirable and self-professed record of psychological disability related to his Vietnam War combat experience."

Diederich insisted: "A military combat veteran, if anyone, should be afforded a second chance, the benefit of doubt, and afforded reasonable accommodation for combat-related disability."

IBM countered by asking Judge Stephen Robinson for a summary judgment since its "policy against surfing sexual websites is clear". The company claimed Pacenza had been warned four months prior to his dismissal for a similar incident. It said: "Plaintiff was discharged by IBM because he visited an internet chat room for a sexual experience during work after he had been previously warned." Pacenza denies this.

IBM further noted that "sexual behaviour disorders are specifically excluded from the ADA". It also denied the age discrimination claim. ®

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